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Why does music sound thin through my headphones?

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 

PC Listening Setup

High Quality enabled streaming music through Spotify

XONAR DGX Sound Card

Sennheiser HD558

 

I have done my best to subscribe to a flat EQ in order to hear the music as the artist intended it. I understand the concept. I listen without EQ correction or added effects to "enhance" the sound like Dolby Headphone. It was hard to start with, because I perceived the sound as being thin and dry, but over time my ears because accustomed to the flat sound.

 

Last night I went to a concert, and the sound was so exciting and full. A far cry from the flat, thin sound emanating from my headphones.  I thought to myself: this is what the artist intended.

 

I don't think that the flat EQ is necessarily to blame. To be sure, what I heard was what the artist intended, as it was the artist live in concert. But when I break it down, even though the music was live, it's still coming out of speakers. Albeit on a sound system that probably costs more than my house. I'm sure a flat EQ on that system would not sound anything like what I can generate from mine.

 

Today I went and modded the EQ to give it a slight "V" shape, and enabled the Dolby Headphone with emulated 7.1 quackery on my sound card, and the sound flatness was gone to a pretty good extent. I'm thinking that in order to sell the software based "enhancements" featured on my sound card, they are probably de-tuning the out-of-the-box sound to make it sound bad just so they can have the features and say "see how good it sounds now!".

 

So here's my question: what am I missing here? Why is the sound flat? Surely a flat EQ shouldn't mean the music should sound thin and flat, because the artist surely didn't intend that. Is there something I can add to my setup to get a good, full sound without messing with my EQ or "enhancing" the music with software effects?

post #2 of 5
Usually music is mixed with speakers in mind (close miking, etc) and try to avoid any effects like a room would have (diffraction, reverb etc). Headphones also have abnormally high stereo separation.

I believe The high stereo separation with the absence of room effects contribute to the 'thin' sound you describe.
Oh, and the bone conduction of the low frequencies that happens irl without hpones.
post #3 of 5

Real-world headphones are imperfect and certainly don't provide an entirely (perceptually or actual) flat response, so depending on your philosophy you might say that corrective EQ is more "correct" or "true".  (personally I wouldn't really pay that much heed to whatever people think and just use what works and sounds good)

 

With headphones you are missing reverb from room reflections and so on, and if we assume that the recording was produced to be played back on speakers, then having the speakers (headphone drivers) right next to your ears means that the stereo image would be screwed up.  With speakers you get some L channel -> R ear and R channel -> L ear crossing over, though time delayed slightly and with an altered frequency response based on head / ear / body shape.  That doesn't happen with headphones.  Dolby Headphone is attempting to do some of these things to some extent.  Again, arguably more correct.

 

With headphones you also don't get the feeling of bass through bone conduction etc. as mentioned above.

 

 

At a concert, the sound you get depends on the venue, setup, performance, your position in the audience, etc.  There is some variation, and I wouldn't particularly say that any particular experience is precisely what is intended.  Mood, expectations, psychological priming, attention (you could be more paying attention at a concert than when at home), and input from other senses can have large effects on perception of sound, and at a concert these will be different.  Also, the volume may be higher.  At a higher volume, perception of low bass and high treble relative to other frequencies is heightened, due to the way human hearing works (see equal-loudness curves).

 

When listening at home, I wouldn't assume that what you get is really what the artist intended.  There are some arguments against typical recording procedures these days, and the majority of music is victimized by the loudness war, so the dynamic range is horribly compressed—arguably good for mass consumption, but not really high fidelity at all and could well sound "flat".  How a track sounds may or may not sound like what the artist intended, really.  Note that if you're listening at a lower volume at home, lower than intended or live levels, the bass and treble may be perceived as a bit quieter, so compensation by EQing up the bass and treble a bit could arguably be more accurate in some sense.

 

 

Pretty much any sound card has a pretty flat frequency response for the D/A conversion and isn't somehow geared to be worse with features turned off.  That said, a lot of these have relatively high output impedance and some have smallish DC blocking capacitors, so if you're running headphones directly from the sound card, that could be affecting the frequency response you get.  I'm not sure about the Xonar DGX, but I don't think the output impedance is that high.


Edited by mikeaj - 3/18/13 at 12:22am
post #4 of 5
Quote:
Originally Posted by morijinal View Post

PC Listening Setup

High Quality enabled streaming music through Spotify

XONAR DGX Sound Card

Sennheiser HD558

 

I have done my best to subscribe to a flat EQ in order to hear the music as the artist intended it. I understand the concept. I listen without EQ correction or added effects to "enhance" the sound like Dolby Headphone. It was hard to start with, because I perceived the sound as being thin and dry, but over time my ears because accustomed to the flat sound.

 

Last night I went to a concert, and the sound was so exciting and full. A far cry from the flat, thin sound emanating from my headphones.  I thought to myself: this is what the artist intended.

 

I don't think that the flat EQ is necessarily to blame. To be sure, what I heard was what the artist intended, as it was the artist live in concert. But when I break it down, even though the music was live, it's still coming out of speakers. Albeit on a sound system that probably costs more than my house. I'm sure a flat EQ on that system would not sound anything like what I can generate from mine.

 

Today I went and modded the EQ to give it a slight "V" shape, and enabled the Dolby Headphone with emulated 7.1 quackery on my sound card, and the sound flatness was gone to a pretty good extent. I'm thinking that in order to sell the software based "enhancements" featured on my sound card, they are probably de-tuning the out-of-the-box sound to make it sound bad just so they can have the features and say "see how good it sounds now!".

 

So here's my question: what am I missing here? Why is the sound flat? Surely a flat EQ shouldn't mean the music should sound thin and flat, because the artist surely didn't intend that. Is there something I can add to my setup to get a good, full sound without messing with my EQ or "enhancing" the music with software effects?

There are several things going on here.  One is the misconception that a "flat" EQ setting is necessarily good, or right.  Flat EQ really is no EQ at all.  No headphone can present the idea frequency response to your ears, and applying the correct type and amount of EQ can help get closer to the ideal, which by the way, isn't going to be flat in any way that you could measure.  In reality, each headphone has a signature curve that deviates from ideal, and in your case, results in a very thin sound.  Applying EQ to counter act that is actually correct, but rather imprecise.  

 

Another problem is the volume at which you listen.  Popular music concerts are almost always very loud.  Human hearing is more sensitive to bass at higher levels, and much less at lower levels.  For example, a recording that has good bass when played loud will have much less bass at a low volume.  This is a normal function of human hearing.  The problem is, recordings are mixed at high monitor volumes, and balanced that way, so when played back and lower levels they often sound thin.  A concert sound system is equalized for flat response (usually slightly modified by a "house curve", but designed to sound natural).  At concert volumes the house mixer adjusts the tonal balance to sound right.  What you need to do with your headphones is apply the right EQ to compensate for both lower volume playback and the non-ideal response of your headphones.  Tough job, but there are solutions.

 

There are several apps that run on portable players that have built-in pre-set custom EQ for specific headphone models.  Accudio is a popular one that does include your headphones.  These apps supposedly have precision EQ settings based on accurate measurements so you don't have to guess or tune by ear.  Sorry, these all run on portable devices, no PCs yet.

 

I've recommended here before that people try the Audyssey "amp" app, but I see they don 't have your headphones in the app yet.  They add new custom EQ curves for specific models all the time, though.  What they did is make highly accurate measurements of headphone samples, and create the exact EQ curve required to present the correct frequency response at your ear drum, where it counts.  That's very important to know.  The actual measured response of your headphones, even with the correct EQ will NOT be flat, and isn't supposed to be.  It's a little complicated, but relates to how sound arrives at your ears from headphones vs real life.  But anyway, Audyssey got it right.  I've tried "amp" with several kinds of headphones, it always completely solves the response issues I've been hearing for years.  But there's something else it does, which differentiates it from other apps like this.

 

Audyssey has a process called DynamicEQ.  What they do is adjust bass response moment by moment according the the specific playback volume level of music at that time.  That means, if you are playing music at a reasonable and safe level, where it would normally sound thin, DynamicEQ compensates and makes it sound right.  If the music drops in volume, Audyssey's correction will track it and correct for it.  It does exactly what's required to maintain frequency response balance at all times while also applying the correct amount of specific headphone EQ. 

 

Accudio and Audyssey amp are not expensive, worth a try.

 

Barring something like " Accudio" "amp", you can adjust your EQ by ear until it sounds right, as you have done.  You'll have to do it again if you change volume settings, but it's better than nothing.

post #5 of 5
Thread Starter 

Thank you all for the answers - I came looking for an excuse to buy a DAC and left with my EQ set to happy! L3000.gif

 

Are there any computer programs that you would recommend to apply a dynamic EQ, or one that has settings for difference headphone models? That sounded like a cool idea to me - I would love to try it!
 

If anybody has the 558 I would love to see what your EQ is set to.
 

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